Look Out For These Invasive Plants in Florida

Check your property for the Brazilian pepper tree and water hyacinth, two of the most invasive plants in Florida.
Written by R.E. Fulton
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
From the Old World climbing fern to the air potato and torpedograss, these are 16 of the most invasive plant species in Florida
Florida’s natural areas are a huge draw for homeowners moving to the Sunshine State, along with rising property values and, of course, sunny skies. But if you’re considering a move to Florida, or if you already own property there, it’s important to be on the lookout for invasive non-native plants that could put your home in danger, or even reduce the value of your property! 
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The top 10 invasive plant species in Florida

1. Melaleuca

Scientific name: Melaleuca quinquenervia
What it looks like: Towering evergreen with pale, peeling bark and white “bottle-brush” flowers
Why it’s a problem: Also known as the punktree or white bottlebrush, M. quinquenervia is a serious threat to the vast wetlands of south Florida, including the Everglades. These fast-growing trees displace native plants and wildlife without providing any benefits to the ecosystem. 
What to do: Remove saplings by hand and remove them so they can’t grow back into the soil. For mature trees, cut the tree before it’s able to produce seeds and apply herbicide to the trunk to prevent regrowth.  

2. Brazilian pepper tree

Scientific name: Schinus terebinthifolia
What it looks like: Shrub with thick, dark green leaves and bright red berries
Why it’s a problem: Floridians transplanted the Brazilian pepper tree (which does not produce peppers) from South America in the 1840s because it looked so good outside their country estates. Unfortunately, S. terebinthifolia is a close relative of poison ivy, causing skin rashes and respiratory irritation to humans and animals—and it grows like wild, even crowding Florida’s majestic mangroves. 
What to do: Don’t ever plant Brazilian pepper trees on your property. If you find any, pull them up immediately, using gloves to avoid a rash. 

3. Old World climbing fern

Scientific name: Lygodium microphyllum
What it looks like: Wiry climbing fern with curled leaflets
Why it’s a problem: A relative of the Japanese climbing fern, or Lygodium japonicum, the Old World climbing fern was introduced to Florida in the 1990s and has been wreaking havoc ever since. This fast-growing fern doesn’t just spread rapidly, strangling native plant life and reducing biodiversity, but it also poses a fire risk. The Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council (FEPPC) lists it as a Category I invasive species
What to do: Rip vines out by the roots and dispose of them in tightly sealed garbage bags. After handling Old World climbing fern, it’s important to wash your clothing, shoes, and tools—this plant is next-level tenacious. 

4. Australian pine

Scientific name: Casuarina
What it looks like: Evergreen with scaly bark and jointed “branchlets” that look like pine needles
Why it’s a problem: The Australian pine isn’t actually a pine tree—but it is a major problem for Florida’s wetlands. Naturalized along the coast since the early 1900s, these Category I invaders displace other species, contributing to beach erosion and endangering the habitat of sea turtles! 
What to do: Use the University of Florida’s
identification guide
to target the three variants of Casuarina. Rake and remove cones, seeds, and fallen branchlets whenever possible. 

5. Camphor tree

Scientific name: Cinnamomum camphora
What it looks like: Evergreen tree with smooth, glossy leaves and round berries
Why it’s a problem: Like many of Florida’s invasive species, the camphor tree was originally introduced for its good looks. Originally a Chinese plant, it’s now invaded much of Florida’s scrubland thanks to its pretty berries, which are easily spread by animals and waterways. They’re hard to get rid of, and their berries are toxic to humans in large quantities. 
What to do: Don’t plant one—go with a native species instead, like a flowering dogwood. If you have a camphor tree, collect the fruit and dispose of it to prevent spread.
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6. Skunkvine

Scientific name: Paederia foetida
What it looks like: A vine twisting consistently to the right with tubular lilac-colored flowers; emits a foul odor when crushed
Why it’s a problem: Apart from its nasty smell, skunkvine tends to strangle native plants in its environment. It’s so invasive that it’s illegal to sell or transport the plant within state lines. 
What to do: Uproot skunkvine when you find it and dispose of it in tightly sealed trash bags. 

7. Japanese honeysuckle

Scientific name: Lonicera japonica
What it looks like: Twining vines with red hairy stems and frilly white or yellow flowers
Why it’s a problem: Don’t confuse Japanese honeysuckle with American honeysuckle. The latter, which has tubular reddish flowers, is a delightful-smelling native plant. Japanese honeysuckle, on the other hand, is a delightful-smelling invasive plant capable of growing so voraciously that it actually pulls down trees. The FEPPC names it a Category I invasive plant. 
What to do: Don’t plant it—opt for American honeysuckle instead (and check any plant ambiguously labeled as “honeysuckle” carefully!). If you find Japanese honeysuckle on your property, dig it up by the roots or apply herbicide. 

8. Rosary pea

Scientific name: Abrus precatorius
What it looks like: A woody vine with pea-like flowers and bright red seeds in pods
Why it’s a problem: Another ornamental plant, the rosary pea is common in central and south Florida, and it holds two dangers. Its distinctive seeds are staggeringly toxic—chewing just one seed could lead to death! And, like other invasive plants in Florida, it can drive out native species. 
What to do: Don’t plant this shrub. If you’re trying to remove it, you’ll need to apply herbicide at very specific intervals and monitor the site carefully. 

9. Air potato 

Scientific name: Dioscorea bulbifera
What it looks like: Long vine with heart-shaped leaves and tubers that resemble potatoes
Why it’s a problem: Found throughout the state, the air potato shades out native plants—and don’t try to eat those potatoes; they’re toxic to humans! 
What to do: You can pick up and throw away any tubers you find on the ground, or order Asian air potato leaf beetles from the Department of Agriculture to control this invasive species through natural means!  

10. Cogon grass 

Scientific name: Imperatacylindrica
What it looks like: Tall grass with hairy tufts
Why it’s a problem: Cogon grass, which grows aggressively throughout Florida, poses a serious fire risk.
What to do: Don’t plant cogon grass, and don’t disturb it if you find it. If you have cogon grass on your property, it’s worth updating your homeowners insurance to make sure you’ve got the fire coverage you need. Find more tips for managing this scary grass at
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The six most invasive aquatic plants in Florida

Here are six of the 18 invasive non-native aquatic plants on the watchlist of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. 

1. Aquatic soda apple

Scientific name: Solanum tampicense
What it looks like: Prickly shrub with white flowers located in wetlands, along riverbanks, and in swamps
Why it’s a problem: A relative of the tropical soda apple (Solanum viarum), another invasive species, this nasty little plant is difficult to remove from the Florida wetlands it’s invaded. Mexican in origin, it forms dense masses in shallow water, and its seeds are spread easily by birds. 
What to do: Uproot plants if possible and dispose of them in sealed garbage bags. 

2. Wild taro

Scientific name: Colocasia esculenta
What it looks like: Weed with large, arrowhead-shaped leaves with wavy edges 
Why it’s a problem: These unassuming weeds are present in over half of Florida’s public water bodies. Although it tends to grow along shorelines, that growth can break out into floating islands that block native plant growth and disrupt the ecosystem. 
What to do: Ecologists are trying to eradicate new wild taro growth by harvesting entire colonies. If you try to pull up wild taro yourself, exercise caution—you must remove the entire plant, including the tuber. 

3. Torpedograss

Scientific name: Panicum repens
What it looks like: Tall, waving grass near water with hairy tops
Why it’s a problem: Torpedograss might sound cool, but ask any ecologist—it’s anything but. Growing from deep, starchy rhizomes under shallow water, this invasive grass forms dense thickets near waterways throughout Florida. 
What to do: The most effective weapon Florida homeowners have against torpedograss is glyphosate herbicide. 

4. Crested floating heart

Scientific name: Nymphoides cristata
What it looks like: Heart-shaped leaves and delicate white flowers floating on water—a classic lily pad
Why it’s a problem: Crested floating heart is a beautiful name for a beautiful plant, but its picture-perfect leaves create a dense cover of shade on top of water bodies, cutting the flora and fauna below off from the life-giving power of the sun. 
What to do: Hand pull plants or use endothall herbicide. 

5. Hydrilla

Scientific name: Hydrilla verticillata
What it looks like: Vast tangles of underwater weeds made up of long tendrils and saw-toothed leaves 
Why it’s a problem: Hydrilla poses major threats not just to Florida wildlife, but to homeowners as well. In addition to choking out native plant life, altering water chemistry, and killing Florida fish, this stubborn invasive plant can actually reduce property values due to its effects on navigation and recreation as well as the natural environment. 
What to do: Pull and harvest hydrilla wherever you find it. The Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Studies (IFAS) has more
tips for hydrilla plant management

6. Water hyacinth

Scientific name: Eichhornia crassipes
What it looks like: Floating plant with smooth, dark green leaves and ruffled purple flowers
Why it’s a problem: Not only does this pretty little invader displace native plants and animals, it attracts mosquitoes and prevents the decomposition of debris, degrading the quality of Florida’s water as it grows at alarming rates. Like hydrilla and a similar plant called water lettuce, water hyacinth can diminish property values. 
What to do: Never plant water hyacinths in a water garden. Hand pull when you find it, and dispose of the remains safely. 

How to save on homeowners’ insurance in Florida

All of the invasive plants on this list are a threat to Florida’s natural environment, but a few pose special risks to homeowners. If you find fire-prone plants like cogon grass or Old World climbing ferns on your property, it’s time to update your homeowners insurance to make sure you’ve got the coverage you need. 
Luckily, that doesn't have to cost you extra—not if you’re shopping with Jerry! As a licensed insurance broker,
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